Bound Morpheme

From the Story Arc: The Charge of the Labcoat Brigade

Previous Story in the Arc: Gerontology by Krasnaya Zarya (Friday, March 23, 2007)

Next Story in the Arc: Alpha Taxonomy by Krasnaya Zarya (Monday, April 02, 2007)

(posted Friday, March 30, 2007)

"Um… Duck?" Alex shouted apologetically as they faced the rising wall of water. He'd dealt with frozen rain and miniature hurricanes in a mock battle with Garent back on Primal Earth - as Portal Corp, and thus the heroes, called his home dimension - and even a rampaging water spout, but never a tidal wave that would make Indonesia shake in its boots.

"Usefulness: pronoun: shade." Shrike quickly stepped between the group and their impending doom, his massive bulk an inadequate cover from a formless liquid. He spread his arms as the wave, no longer growing in height - dwarfing the giant ziggurat was apparently enough - suddenly rushed at them, a great blue mass blocking all vision.

And suddenly replaced with a great brown mass.

The wave crashed around a large stone wall now surrounding them in a semi-circle of rock-solid defense - Alex snickered inwardly at the pun - and quickly filled the arena floor with waist-high water. He gasped and immediately grabbed the bottom of his labcoat and lifted it up, hoping that he had remembered to seal all of his pockets to protect the contents from technology destroying H2O.

Tobias used the short time he had without Oran's direct attention to slip himself out of notice and disappeared wrapping his body and mind in shadows. Ignored by the entire group, he skirted around the edge of the arena, dispite his near invisibility, to find an edge of darkness, hidden away from the searing, white sun. Sofia noticed from the corner of her eyes, however, how Garent nodded slightly, off to one side.

"Vickie!" Sofia gaped at the out of breath technomage, who had her arms up in front of her, palms facing the wall. "I thought your magic wasn't reliable here!"

"Reliable enough," the blonde replied, noticeably exhausted from her endeavor. "As I said before, everything is sluggish… It took a lot to get that to happen so quickly. I hope I do not have to do it again."

"Tell that to Oran," Aleksander murmured. Luckily for him, the android body was made to be able to do all things that humans could do, including swim; there was no worry of his robotic shell shorting out. He pointed at the offending paternal entity and added, "He doesn't appear to be done with that water."

A small current began to build in the water, moving in a circle around the Praetorian magician. In a short time, a whirlpool formed, pulling all the water inwards. Instead of sinking down through a nonexistent drain, it appeared to be merging with his feet; this only became more obvious as he grew in size, the mass of the water adding to his own.

"I see you are not without a magician of your own, though her ways are new and mysterious to me," Oran yelled over the roar of the water rushing towards him. "But her parlor tricks are as nothing to my control over the very element responsible for life itself!"

"Oxygen?" Alternate Sofia asked, her mouth twitching at the urge to laugh.

Oran glared and swung his fist towards her. His arm from the elbow down turned into a powerful jet of water, shooting with pinpoint accuracy at the startled linguist. Just before impact, the large Shrike leapt in between, causing water to spray on the group as it bounced off the immovable object. Oran sneered and brought down his makeshift fire hose, which immediately reformed into his arm.

Garent stepped forward, sweeping his arms upwards and out, as though in an attempt to give his father's alternate a loving, though somewhat distant, hug; he 'grabbed' the water droplets that sprayed over the group and with a snap of his fingers and a theatrical sweep, lifted them up into the air, making them drift about in a circle. The water formed together and compressed into a ball as Garent threw it at Oran. It speeded in the air, defying gravity as it went, apinning and splintering occasinoally into a rainbow of droplets. Midway to the older elementalist, the ball of water froze, wavering for a long, strained moment slightly to the right, then to the left as Garent and the alternate of his father fought to gain and retain control. Garent, apparently, was losing; the water sphere shattered into millions of colourful droplets and evaporated into light, invisible steam.

"You're too weak!" Oran Ward taunted, "You can't even hit me."

"He wasn't trying to." Tobias grinned smugly as he became visible behind Oran. Oran siezed up in shock as a bone spike pierced through his right lung.

Garent quickly flew past Oran and grabbed Tobias just before lances made of ice shot out of the man's back where Tobias was standing.

Alex and Aleksander were already on the offensive, running in opposite directions in a semi-circle around the target. A hail of energy blasts - flung from the hands of the former and coalescing in the space around the latter - tore into and through Oran, making a series of impact craters on the far side of the arena.

Oran merely laughed as the gaping holes in his body collapsed and reformed. The injured areas themselves were momentarily transparent masses of water, only regaining texture and color once it had taken the normal shape for human male. "Your foreign magicks," he noted cooly, though with a somewhat wide-eyed look at the beams of pure energy, "are useless against me, as I said."

"He's made out of water!" Aleksander yelled at Sasha from across the arena, no longer firing.

"I noticed!" Alex shouted back, likewise falling back. He turned his head towards the rest of the group. "Sofia! Can you evaporate him or something?"

"Not if we want to leave today!" Sofia frowned. As a pyrokinetic she could raise the temperature of any object, but it took time; a teacup was a matter of moments, a large pot minutes, a swimming pool days. She found it much easier to burn things by igniting the air around them on fire than to actually cook them.

"Our swords and guns aren't much use, either." Sofia-A hadn't even bothered to un-holster the small Rikti plasma pistol that Alex had given her. Victoria, likewise, hadn't unsheathed her blade, though she still kept a hand on it for comfort's sake. "How do you beat water?"

"We do not," Shrike answered, either unaware or uncaring of the rhetorical nature of the question. "We cannot kill him so long as there is any moisture on this planet - which includes water inside human beings." Behind Shrike, they could see the two Sashas dodging jets of water flying from the hands of Oran. "We must incapacitate him in some manner."

"How do you kn-… Nevermind." Sofia sighed. It was impossible to get an explanation from Shrike over anything, and the fact that he was usually right made it all the more intolerable. One of these days she'd tell him the story of Rabbi Eliezer and the Sanhedrin… "So how do we do that?"

Shrike shrugged. "Like all living things, he can get tired and exhausted. If we can outlast him, he will have no choice but to retreat."

"Where's a bag of quick drying cement when you need it?" The other Sofia murmured, only half involved in the conversation, busy as she was watching a small ball of energy explode inside Oran, flinging chunks of water into the air which immediately, and against all respect for physics, drew back together.

"A bag of what?" Shrike reached up and scratched his metallic head, making a terrible grinding sound.

"Cement." Victoria grinned. "Sofia, you're a genius!"

"I don't think it'll work," both Sofias said in unison. Sofia/Zarya continued with a short explanation: "Assuming that Shrike or you can conjure us up a bag, we only know it works by mixing it with normal water. For all we know, he can't be mixed at all; just like I can make fire move around flammable objects, he can probably control his liquid self on a molecular level and make it dodge - so to speak - the instant cement."

"I actually wasn't thinking cement," Victoria explained. "Here's the plan…"

"How long are we going to keep this up?" Alex shouted from across the arena as he held a ball of bright orange energy in front of him. A jet of water from Oran was meeting the ball and instantly vaporizing, creating a plume of steam.

"You will tire eventually and it will be over for you." Oran sneered and gestured behind him with a nod of his head. "Then I can focus all my attentions on your golem clone."

Clone?! Aleksander scoffed at the notion and expanded his consciousness, leaving the inert robotic shell behind him. In an instant - traveling roughly the speed of light - he had filled the space around and even overlapping Oran, and created a small wall of photonic energy between the mystic and his mortal alternate.

You shouldn't wait until then! he mentally translated the compression waves of sounds coming from Alex, who began launching a constant stream of energy at the wall. They did not need to practice the move; once it was evident to them that Alex could produce greater amounts of energy, and Aleksander had a finer-tuned control, the symbiosis was self-evident. Aleksander took control of the energy as it entered his sphere of influence and set it into motion in an orbit around Oran. Within moments, the mystic was contained in a hollow sphere of energy.

Aleksander triumphantly collapsed the sphere, instantly vaporizing the occupant, and returned to his robotic body.

"Not so hard," he scoffed openly while eyeing the rising plume of steam that was the only remnant of Garent's father's alternate. He took a look at Garent, who was merely shaking his head.

"I don't think this-"

Aleksander snapped his head back to look at Alex, who was now surrounded by a thick anthropomorphic fog. It solidified back into a giant watery version of Oran, Sasha visibly drowning inside. Aleksander started to run across the arena to free his other self, but stopped when he felt a sudden surge of energy and instead flung himself to the ground.

A massive explosion shook the arena, leaving a deep crater with a very exhausted Alex crouched in the middle of it. Wisps of sentient steam were dispersed throughout, slowing coming back together.

"Zarya, now!" Victoria yelled at Sofia-Zarya beside her. Zakat's self-induced nova was just the opportunity they had been looking for.

Zarya held her hands out in front of her, towards the crater made by her husband. Within moments, a thin layer along the top became smooth and creamy, the singed sandstone becoming malleable.

"Garent!" The young man looked at her inquisitively. "We need you to-" She stopped, seeing him nod.

A strong wind filled the ziggurat, lifting Garent up into the air. From his new vantage point he began directing small gusts of a miniature makeshift hurricane, buffeting the team of rescuers and driving all the wisps of smoke and steam into the center of the coliseum.

"Do it quickly," he screamed back, "before he reconstitutes himself!"

It was a surprisingly simple thing, the technomage found, to transmogrify the molten rock. Usually she merely shaped and directed the elements, coaxing the earth to take up the desired space and crush whatever villain happened to direct her ire; but turning lead into gold was something else entirely.

Or, in this case, sandstone into opal.

Within moments the silicon dioxide - created by the burning process of Zarya's pyrokinesis - was shifted and compacted into a hexagonal lattice. To the naked eye, clouds of sand and dirt had risen and mixed with the swirling steam, eventually solidifying into a perfect sphere.

The large orb shone with a variety of mixed colors, a rainbow monument to the imprisoned Oran Ward.

"How long will that last?" Alex asked as he walked up to the sphere, tapping it once.

Vickie shrugged. "Don't know. However long it takes him to get out."

"Longer than it takes us to get out, I hope," Tobias replied, sullen due to his lack of having a part in the plan.

"It will be." Garent floated down to the middle of the group nonchalantly, seemingly unfazed by the whole ordeal.

Sofia-Zarya, shaking water out of her hair and wringing out the tails of her shirt shook her head at him. "There is no spoon, remember? Let's make sure that there will be no soup, either, and get out of here." She flicked her fingers, and the nail rang a note on the opal, "pretty."

"He doesn't think so," Alter-Sofia noted coolly while the group congregated by the low, narrow entrance to the internal arena. Outside, a low hum was ever-growing into a sort of odd crescendo and Sofia-Zarya, after casting a very sharp look in the direction of her alternate, tilted her head to listen to it. The crowd was perhaps cheering, and perhaps calling for their blood. One could not tell precisely which, but Garent did not look perturbed. Then they rapidly went inside, out of the sunlight and into the gloom of the corridor, Alex's flashlight spreading a pool of light on the stone floor, and the noise faded away.